Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced a series of state efforts to address a spike in reports of online child exploitation.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) will take extra measures to fight online predators through a new series of webinars that will educate parents on child internet safety. Raoul also announced a new ICAC mobile forensic unit that will be used to analyze evidence on-site during investigations.
The new efforts were launched with the help of the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois and the Illinois State Police at a news conference Monday.
“The threat is out there and, with our children’s increasing use of the internet for education entertainment and social interaction, it is growing,” Raoul said. “I’m asking all of you — guardians parents teachers pastors neighbors — to join us in helping stop this scourge of child pornography.”
Reports to the ICAC during 2021 will likely increase by 23% over 2020, the attorney general’s office said, noting the trend may in part be due to increased reporting by social media platforms and apps.
“I believe this whole area of sexual predators and the harm caused [on] our children is the hidden crisis facing us,” said acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois Doug Quivey.
“Although we will be forever vigilant in prosecution, prosecution will never be better than prevention.”
Through the monthly webinars, parents can learn about the apps children and teens use, hear tips in helping children navigate aggressive online behavior and understand the best practices for helping children to foster healthy interactions online. The webinars will also teach parents how to look for signs that a child may have been victimized online.
Raoul said the webinars are especially important in a time of COVID, when much of children’s social interactions have moved online.
“During this time of separation from their peers, they’ve turned to technology for schooling, for connecting with old and new friends and alleviating the social isolation this crisis has forced upon them,” Raoul said. “Child predators are there to try to take advantage of this.”
Since 2019, the attorney general’s ICAC Task Force has received more than 13,353 cyber tips and been involved in more than 150 arrests of sexual predators, Raoul’s office said.
The series will begin Thursday, and webinars will take place at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. The webinars are free, and those interested can email email@example.com to register.
To report suspected online child sexual exploitation, contact local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline at 1-800-THE-LOST.